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Amend At Least Some Portion Of AFSPA

The recent order passed by a Delhi court (The Patiala House court) directing the police to register a complaint of ‘Sedition’ against writer activist Arundhati Roy, Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and five others has again brought up the age-old question that whether Sedition (which in plain word means defamation of the State) as described under Sec.

124-A of The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is incompatible or rather contradictory with the Freedom of Speech and Expression as guaranteed under Article 19 (l) (a) of the Constitution of India. The order to register the FIR is being passed as Arundhati Roy is alleged to have made some anti-Indian comments favoring the Kashmiris in a seminar held in New Delhi on the 21st of October.

Arundhati Roy has also been very vocal against the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 as well as the atrocities committed by the Indian Security Forces in the Kashmir Valley.

On one hand, lndia boasts of being the largest democratic country in the world and is lobbying very hard to be a permanent member of the United Nation Security Council while on the other, it suppresses every time any person raising his\her voice against the various Human rights violation carried out by the security forces in the name of fighting insurgency especially in the Kashmir valley and the Northeastern region of our country, in one way or the other.

Article 19 (l) (a) of the Constitution gives freedom of speech and expression and in a democratic State, this fundamental Right must be safeguarded. Of course, freedom of speech and expression does not mean that the citizens can say whatever they want at the cost of another person’s fundamental right.

One person’s fundamental right extends up to the boundary of another citizen’s fundamental right. However any of the words spoken by Arundhati Roy on that occasion did not affect the security of the State and no form of violence followed after that seminar.

It appears as though, the officials were waiting for an opportunity to put some form of charges on the writer activist as she has been very vocal from her days of the ‘Narmada bachao andolan’ with Medha Patkar to the present Kashmir issue as well as the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. Sedition (as explained under sec.124-A of the IPC) is a borrowed concept just like AFSPA.

It was enacted and implemented during the British rule in our country. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the well known freedom fighter was convicted on the charge of sedition by the Privy Council during the pre independent era.

In another case, the leading newspaper ‘the Amrita Bazaar Patrika’ had published two articles namely ‘To whom does India belong’ and ‘Arrest of Mr. Gandhi’”more outrages’ in its issue dated 10th and 11th April, 1919.

The said press was charged with ‘sedition’ and the Government of West Bengal ordered the forfeiture of the security of Rs. 5, OOO /- of the Patrika and the appeal made to the High Court ‘against the said order was dismissed.

What I want to express by bringing up these two instances is that sedition just like AFSPA are some of the ways adopted by the Britishers to counter the freedom struggle of those days and it is really unfortunate that the present Indian Government continues to use such controversial laws and Acts till today.

What use is of being a permanent member of the UN Security Council when its citizens back home cannot express their grievances openly and without fear?

Today it is Arundhati Roy, tomorrow it can be anyone. The situation faced by the ordinary Kashmiri citizens after the enactment of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 has become from bad to worst.

There is not much difference between the gross violation of the human rights of the citizens by the security forces under the protection of this draconian Act in the name of fighting the insurgent group in the Kashmir valley and the situation in the Northeastern region of our country.

I remember few days back a gentleman who is one of the regular columnists of this esteemed newspaper wrote about AFSPA and commented that our security forces have to face lots of difficulties, be it political interference or the terrain where they have to carry out their duties and hence just like the CrPC (The Criminal Procedure Code) for the ordinary police, the armies and the para-military are also in need of such similar provision to carry out their duties effectively.

Yes, I do agree that our security forces have to face a lot of difficulties in carrying out their duties and in spite of all the hurdles they have contributed a lot for the country for which we should be proud of but what I want to put forward is that just because the security forces have to face a lot of difficulties while carrying out their duties should ‘License to Kill’ be given to them?

This is just what Sec.4 (a) of the Act gives to the Army officer. In short, the army is authorized to take the lives of even that of innocent (as the Act empowers to take lives on mere suspicion and hence the probability of the deceased turning out to be innocent is very strong) thus we can conclude that the power to fire and arrest a person on mere suspicion that he\she is likely to commit an offence is the extraordinary power that has led to extensive human rights violations in the Northeast, which has been reeling under the draconian provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958.

What I am trying to put forward is that if AFSPA cannot be altogether repealed then at least some portion of it can be amended especially Sec 4(a).

I would like to wind up by saying that there is nothing to be proud of being the largest democratic country in the world when some of our citizens have to face gross violation of human rights at the extent of losing the innocent lives in the name of controlling the insurgent movement and instead should try to solve this problem through political dialogues.

I would also like to convey a message to the Army personnel through this article that no amount of military civic action programs would be able to win the trust and the faith of the people if you keep on carrying out the violation of the human rights in the name of counter-insurgency.

*The opinion is written by Elangbam John Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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